Science kits help D51 kids get hands-on
A partnership between School District 51 and the John McConnell Math & Science Center of Western Colorado is helping local elementary students get in touch with science.
The center will spend $47,000 to $48,000 this year developing lesson plans to match new science curriculum standards in Colorado. Each lesson is paired with a kit the center will stock with a children’s book that introduces a science concept and materials that will help teachers lead their classes in an experiment that displays that concept.
Math & Science Center kits aren’t new but their availability and their content are. For years, local teachers could contact the Math & Science Center and request a box of materials to teach a science lesson. The number of kits was limited and the lessons followed now-extinct curriculum standards.
Following implementation of new statewide standards last year, all classes in all District 51 schools along one grade level learn the same science lessons in the same order within a week or two of each other. Kits from the center matching the concepts students will learn in one nine-week period are delivered to elementary schools on a quarterly basis and there are now enough kits for all kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers in the district to use at the same time.
The kits help teachers feel more comfortable teaching subjects that may not have been part of their science units before the curriculum changes, according to District 51 Content Specialist Kim Smith. Kits also helped the district gather resources to teach a new science curriculum for the first time in 20 years, she said.
Appleton Elementary School teacher Barb Bingham said teachers would spend time and money making their own kits without the center’s help and those kits may not match curriculum standards as closely as the ones designed by the center.
“This is more researched and directly tied to the standards,” Bingham said. “It’s great for teachers because the plans and materials are there and it frees up a lot of time for me to focus on other things.”
Bingham uses the kits about once a month with her kindergarten students. Learning about force in motion on a chalk board could result in a lot of glazed-over looks in her class. But racing cars and cotton balls down a ramp grabs their attention.
“Anything hands-on, they love it. It’s fun but focused,” she said.
The center made 216 kits for 24 elementary schools in the first quarter and will keep more kits flowing throughout the school year. Math & Science Center Executive Director Teresa Coons said the center is looking for donations to help stock the kits. Some materials can be reused but other supplies, such as cereal and napkins, must be replaced annually.
Coons said she was surprised to find some local elementary schools only taught science as little as 20 minutes a week. She hopes the kits will help kids and teachers make the most of science time.
“It’s a good thing for us to be doing and it fits our mission,” Coons said.